Memos from the Middle

Smack-Dab in the Middle of Living

Chemistry and Faith

The line snaked down the hallway. A sea of black faces, carrying some combination of exhaustion, irritation, and terror in the creases of their foreheads, waited to see him. It was tough for all of us. We were not positioned in the front of the class. We were not given the relevant explanations. We had no invitations for tutoring before or after school. We “earned” our grades. We were “good students” in every class except his, and it was tough trying to stay motivated knowing that the darker our skin the less help he intended to give us. He did smile at us, though, but only when passing back papers.

The lone “D” seemed to pulsate next to the words “Honors Chemistry,” as I stared down at my report card, squeezing back tears and stifling disappointment at seeing my first (and only) bad grade.

“Do I need to get in this line?” My dad stopped abruptly when he realized this was the chemistry teacher’s parent-teacher conference line.

“No,” I replied simply.

I hated going to chemistry. I hated the condescending tone the teacher used with the black students. I hated his jokes at our expense. I hated how our white, Mexican, and Asian friends never seemed to notice that the same hands placed in caring support on their shoulders at a misunderstanding never touched ours.

But as much evidence as I could point to demonstrating my teacher’s prejudice (and my classmates’ seeming oblivion that their increases in class rank and our decreases depended solely on chemistry grades), I knew that he had evidence, too: I had given up. I had stopped working as hard. And my dad just didn’t need to hear that!

It was fear that kept me awake at night pouring over my science textbook. It was fear that got me to school early to pepper my fairer skinned friends with questions and compare my graded papers with theirs. It was fear that inched my seat closer and closer to the front the room, knowing it made him uncomfortable. It was fear that thrust my hand in the air, quietly demanding to be seen. For as scared as I was of being the recipient of his sarcasm and academic neglect, I was more afraid of my dad knowing that I had not given my best.

I had total faith in my dad’s willingness and ability to successfully champion my cause, but my parents raised me to recognize and honor my responsibilities, too. So as terrifying, unfair, and daunting as the task was, I had work to do.

The truth is that I really thought I was going to get another D. I worked my butt off so that I could send my dad in to clean up that mess. I knew that my teacher would see that six-foot-three-inch black male police officer of a dad and kowtow. But my faith was too strong: I averaged a B against every obstacle that man put in my way, bringing my grade up!

Friend, I know that this doesn’t seem like the “proper” anecdote to share for this New Year, but I want to remind you that fear can do one of two things: It can paralyze you or it can motivate you. The difference is one of faith, and our actions indicate exactly what we believe. You see, there was no doubt in my high school mind that if push came to shove, my dad would be my biggest defender against that racist chemistry teacher. I knew that he would meet with whomever he had to whenever the need arose to support me. But I also knew that my dad would not abide foolishness on my part. If I was going to rouse him, sending him out to fix an injustice, I had better come correct.

There is a saying: “Faith is an action word.” We enter 2022 with a slew of scary, unfair, and hard circumstances dotting our world. But we can either roll over and take our lumps, or we can act like we believe God. We have a Father who is worthy of our faith. He can “do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think,” but our Father also requires that we employ that with which He has equipped us. We must faithfully operate under the assurance that we have a Savior in Jesus Christ who has already told us that we would make it. The same God who created this world has each and every circumstance we face firmly in control, and our everyday choices must signal that we believe Him and take Him at His word. We must recognize and praise His power and might. We must fear and revere Him above all else, and one day we’ll look up and see that He carried us through!

Friend, remember that we are rewarded for our faith. May God continue to renew your spirit as you learn to trust Him more and walk nearer to Him in 2022. Let your fear be placed in Him so that your steps are ordered by faith in Christ Jesus!

“And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, ‘What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ And they came over unto the other side….” (Mark 4: 41 and 5: 1, KJV)

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